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Duke's Theatre


Although our knowledge of this building is sketchy, the Duke’s Theatre was highly influential as the first wholly purpose-built theatre in the new style built after the Restoration of the monarchy.

Thomas Betterton led the Duke’s Company from the death in 1668 of Sir William Davenant, one of the two original theatre patentees. Davenant’s widow and Betterton built a new theatre in 1671 on the grounds of the former Dorset House. Almost certainly by Sir Christopher Wren, it was an imposing building with a colonnaded front and central tower, approached by steps from the River Thames.

Very little is known about its plan or internal architecture but scholars have deduced its dimensions (within a small margin of error) and its general arrangement from three main sources: a series of engravings of scenes from the 1673 production of ‘The Empress of Morocco’ which show the stage frontispiece; the exterior outline shown on Ogilby & Morgan’s map and facts gleaned from contemporary descriptions.

Davenant was a pioneer in the introduction of continental-style staging to Restoration London and it can be said with certainty that the Duke’s Company’s Dorset Gardens theatre was designed to accommodate elaborate stage machines and perspective scenery. There were proscenium entry doors on either side of a deep forestage, extending well forward of the perspective stage into the pit, which was surrounded by boxed seating, possibly in the form of semicircular tiers.

It has been assumed by several authorities that an opulently enriched baroque feature over the proscenium opening was a musicians’ gallery. The ‘Empress of Morocco’ engravings suggest that the auditorium may have been substantially taller than its breadth between facing box tiers.

The theatre seems to have been acoustically less than satisfactory and it has been suggested that practical experience gained at the Duke’s enabled Wren to improve substantially on this design in his theatrically successful and influential Drury Lane Theatre of 1674.

The theatre in Dorset Gardens was abandoned by the Duke’s Company when the combined King’s and Duke’s companies occupied the new Drury Lane Theatre Royal. Thereafter it had a patchy career as the Queen’s Theatre, with drama steadily overtaken by popular entertainments, including wrestling.

It was demolished about 1720. It is commemorated by a plaque in Salisbury Court.

Built / Converted
Dates of use
  • 1689 : Until when not known.
Current state
Current use
Salisbury Court, London, City of London, EC4, England
Further details
Other names
Dorset Gardens Theatre , Queen’s Theatre
  • 1671 Design/Construction:
    Sir Christopher Wren
    - Architect
  • 1671 Owner/Management: Thomas Betterton, the Duke’s Company
  • 1689 Use: Until when not known.
  • Capacity
    1689: 1000
  • Listing
    Not listed
Stage type
proscenium with forestage
Building dimensions: -
Stage dimensions: -
Proscenium width: -
Height to grid: -
Inside proscenium: -
Orchestra pit: -